Next Stop: Quebec City

By Leroux, Darryl | Canadian Dimension, March 2001 | Go to article overview

Next Stop: Quebec City


Leroux, Darryl, Canadian Dimension


The Summit of the Americas, the FTAA and Quebec City

In April, Quebec City has the dubious honour of hosting the 3rd Summit of the Americas, which brings together 34 heads of state of the Americas and the Caribbean -- all except Fidel Castro. Aside from the Summit's usual declarations on security and terrorism, human rights and democracy, the main focus of this year's Summit will be to finalize the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) agreement.

This agreement, which by its very nature will affect the everyday lives of millions, extends the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to the entire Western hemisphere. The FTAA has been the subject of secretive negotiations since the first Summit was held in Miami in 1994. Negotiators have set 2005 as the FTAA's implementation deadline.

Like NAFTA, the FTAA intends to submit health and education, as well as hard-fought-for environmental and labour standards to the forces of the so-called free market. The never-ending erosion of citizen control symptomatic of trade agreements such as NAFTA and the FTAA is illustrated by recent high-profile Chapter 11 (NAFTA's investor-state dispute settlement mechanism) cases.

In the case of Ethyl Corp. vs. Canada, Ohio-based Ethyl's statement of claim challenged Canadian government legislation banning MMT (a gasoline additive produced by Ethyl) on the grounds that it "expropriated" its assets in Canada. They further claimed that "legislative debate itself constituted an expropriation of its assets because public criticism of MMT damaged the company's reputation." A year after Ethyl sued Canada for US$250 million, the Canadian government withdrew the legislation and paid Ethyl US$13 million to settle the case.

Another more recent case saw Metalclad Corp., a Texas-based toxic waste-disposal company, accuse the Mexican government of violating Chapter 11 of NAFTA when the state of San Luis Potosi refused to allow the re-opening of a waste-disposal site. As a result of local citizen pressure and an environmental assessment that demonstrated the facility would contaminate the local water supply, the State Governor finally ordered the site closed. In response, Metalclad sought US$90 million in compensation. In August 2000, in the first ruling in an investor-to-state lawsuit under NAFTA, the Chapter 11 Tribunal ruled in favour of Metalclad, ordering the Mexican government to pay US$16.7 million in compensation.

Meanwhile, workers have filed more than 20 labour complaints under NAFTA's labour side agreement, almost all of them against the Mexican government (since NAFTA does not allow complaints to be brought against corporations). In almost every case, fundamental violations of labour law have been proven, yet nothing concrete has been done to redress the workers' complaints. Incidents like the recent police violence of January 2000 against striking workers at Mexico's Kuk-Dong garment factory (whose biggest customer is Nike) and the Duro Bag factory (whose biggest customer is Hallmark) point out the impotence of the labor agreements. As Martha Ojeda, the director of the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras, says, "We already know that [NAFTA's] protections for labour rights are worthless."

It has become apparent in the months since the WTO protests in Seattle that there is growing awareness of the utter failure of the neo-liberal regime in protecting citizens' rights. Several groups in Quebec are currently planning large-scale grassroots events for the Summit, and many other groups in the Americas and the Caribbean have recognized the importance of tying local struggles with the struggle against the FTAA. Not surprisingly, Canadian authorities will enforce harsh security measures during the Summit in an effort to render all concerned citizens present in Quebec both inaudible and invisible.

The Security Measures

Needless to say, the security measures being planned are sweeping. …

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